District Attorney Vance Launches Formal Application Process for $35 Million Rape Kit Testing Initiative

April 1, 2015

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today released a Request for Proposals (RFP) soliciting grant applications for the District Attorney’s $35 million initiative to eliminate backlogs of untested sexual assault evidence kits, or “rape kits,” from jurisdictions across the country. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will award successful applicants up to $2 million for a two-year period to aid jurisdictions in analyzing untested, backlogged rape kits. Representatives of 40 jurisdictions from 26 states submitted Expressions of Interest earlier this year, indicating more than 70,000 untested rape kits within their jurisdictions.

“Representatives from 26 states – literally half of the country – have already signaled to my Office that they have untested rape kits on hand,” said District Attorney Vance. “With today’s release of our Request for Proposals, we are one step closer to our ultimate goal of greatly reducing the number of backlogged rape kits around the country. During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, survivors and the family members of deceased victims need to know that their cases are not forgotten cases, and the possibility for justice remains.

“Law enforcement around the country knows the power of DNA evidence, a reliable, cost-effective tool for solving crimes across state lines and exonerating the innocent. With this investment, and complementary funding recently announced by the U.S. Department of Justice, we will be able to make significant, impactful progress toward eliminating the national rape kit backlog.”

The commitment is one in a series of transformative criminal justice investments that the District Attorney’s Office is making with asset forfeiture funds secured through recent sanctions cases, including BNP Paribas S.A.’s guilty plea

Responses to the Request for Expressions of Interest

Law enforcement representatives from jurisdictions across the country responded to District Attorney Vance’s November 2014 announcement of the $35 million initiative. In December, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office asked interested jurisdictions to submit an Expression of Interest detailing the scope of their jurisdiction’s backlogs, and describing their individual needs and challenges. Though the submissions themselves remain confidential, the responses indicate the depth of the problem and the eagerness of law enforcement to eliminate their rape kit backlogs. 

Of note, representatives of 40 jurisdictions from 26 states from coast-to-coast submitted Expressions of Interest. The diverse group of respondents included police departments, laboratories, and prosecutors’ offices. In total, the jurisdictions indicated that they had more than 70,000 rape kits in need of testing. The estimated number of backlogged kits varied widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, ranging from 17 to an estimated 9,000 untested kits. The majority of jurisdictions indicated that their untested rape kits spanned multiple years, and in some cases, were decades old. 

Request for Proposals

Through the RFP, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office aims to contribute to the permanent elimination of the national rape kit backlog by awarding up to $35 million in funding to test untested or backlogged sexual assault kits. Applicants will be asked to submit information about the size and scope of their untested kits, their current testing policies, and their willingness to follow best practices determined by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and its partners. Jurisdictions are encouraged to apply for funding, even if the total scope of their backlog remains unknown.
Awards amounting up to $2 million will be granted for up to a two-year period. States, territories, local governments, law enforcement agencies, and public forensic labs may all apply for funding. Applicants will be required to demonstrate a coordinated strategy that includes collaboration among police, prosecutors, labs, victim services, and local government. 

Completed applications are due by June 1, 2015 at 5 pm EST. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will host an informational webinar on April 20, 2015 to provide further information about the program; applicants are strongly encouraged to participate in that information session. 

The U.S. Department of Justice’s $41 Million Sexual Assault Kit Initiative

The United States Congress recently approved a federal spending bill including the allocation of $41 million to address the national rape kit backlog. Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (“BJA”) released a Sexual Assault Kit (“SAK”) Initiative Grant Program RFP soliciting applications for this funding. BJA’s grant program aims to provide jurisdictions across the country with resources to develop and implement comprehensive, multi-disciplinary rape kit reform, including testing and inventorying kits, funding investigations and prosecutions that stem from DNA hits, trainings, victim services, and tracking systems.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and BJA are working together to ensure optimal coordination between each agency’s respective grant programs when selecting grantees, and to ensure that there is no duplication of services. Certain recipients of the District Attorney’s funding will be eligible for training and technical assistance from BJA, including participation in cross-jurisdictional training efforts, support for jurisdictions to determine the scope of their untested SAK inventory, and adherence to evidence-based and best practices for the testing and use of SAK evidence. Completed applications for BJA grants are due on May 7, 2015.

Best Practices for Successful Rape Kit Testing

Based on previous successful efforts to eliminate rape kit backlogs in jurisdictions such as New York City and Detroit, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and its partners have identified several best practices critical to a successful testing effort. Jurisdictions applying for funding will be required to adhere to these best practices including, but not limited to: 

  • A multi-disciplinary strategy that involves law enforcement, prosecutors, system and community-based victim advocates, forensic medical personnel, and laboratories.
  • The adoption of the “forklift approach,” testing each and every untested kit. 
  • A commitment to eventually test all untested kits, even if the District Attorney’s Office cannot fully meet the jurisdiction’s need, including establishing process or policy changes, as well as secure ongoing funding in order to ensure that all kits within the jurisdiction are tested going forward.  
  • A commitment to prosecuting and investigating any DNA hits that result from testing.
  • A coordinated strategy to notify and engage victims following a Combined DNA Index System (“CODIS”) hit.
  • A commitment to entering all eligible DNA profiles into CODIS within a reasonable timeframe. 
  • A mechanism to assure that police, prosecutors and the lab are alerted simultaneously in the event of a CODIS hit. 

The City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance is acting as the technical assistance consultant for the District Attorney’s criminal justice initiatives, helping to guide the selection of projects, provide oversight for the projects once selected, and carefully monitor performance and outcomes to assess the impact of initiative-funded projects. The Joyful Heart Foundation is serving as a technical advisor to the District Attorney’s Office for this initiative.